A Mission Church

March 25th, 2014
This comes to you from Alaska! I joked at Mass last Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that I was going to a place with a milder winter climate than New York City!

The Archbishop of Anchorage, Roger Schweitz, and the Bishop of Juneau, Ed Burns – – both good friends and exemplary apostles – – had invited me a couple years ago. They had told me that annually, the bishops and priests of the three dioceses in Alaska – – there is a diocese of Fairbanks, too, and they await Pope Francis’ appointment of a new bishop – – meet during Lent for a few days of prayer, camaraderie, and conferences. I’m providing the latter.

Long have I been in admiration of the Church in Alaska. The state is almost three times the size of Texas, with three expansive dioceses, and less than seventy priests. The Catholic population is only at 10%, and two thirds of Alaska’s population itself is “un-Churched.”. The distances are unbelievable, the lack of “resources” – – parishes, chapels, schools, religious education programs, charitable outreach, priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, trained lay pastoral leaders, money – – a real challenge.

Yet, Catholics are united, proud, and active; the priests happy, zealous, and committed; vocations on a slight increase; and the people love the Church! They cherish the company of fellow Catholics, they know they must evangelize their neighbors and their culture – – suspicious as the society is about religion, and especially Catholics – – and they show grit and determination about their faith that is radiant.

Yes, Alaska is the missions. But, as I’ve mentioned before, so are we in the Archdiocese of New York. No longer can we take our faith for granted; all the “props” we used to count upon for our faith are no longer there. A presumed, superficial, “inherited” faith just doesn’t cut it anymore. Our culture is suspicious of us, if not downright antagonistic. To be a sincere Catholic entails an active, free deliberate choice to accept the gracious invitation of Jesus to know, love, and serve Him in His Church.

That’s the message of Lent…

That’s the message of Pope Francis…

That’s the message of Alaska!

A “Used-to-be” Lent

March 20th, 2014
This time of the year, these forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, I often hear folks over fifty-five or so reminisce about how Lent“used-to-be.”“Remember the tuna casseroles and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“I used to long for Sunday when I could have a piece of the candy I had given-up for Lent.”

“Did I ever love the Stations of the Cross on Friday.”

“Remember how tough it was not to eat between meals?”

“I can still recall dad reminding us to make a good confession before Easter.”

“Mom used to love her sodality meetings, and dad his night of cards and a couple beers at the Holy Name evenings at the parish, but those were all cancelled during Lent.”

“Remember the ‘rice bowl’ to help feed the starving sitting on the kitchen table where we’d put our pennies saved from buying treats.”

“And remember how we used to so enjoy Easter, after forty days of sacrifice and penance; it was like we were entering a new life and the sun of spring with Jesus risen.”

A lot of that these days, what I call “used-to-be Lent.”

Because, I wonder if we’ve lost it . . . has Lent become a thing of the past?

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I don’t want to go back to the “under-pain-of sin” mandatory fast and abstinence of pre-1967 Catholic life – – although I sure remember Pope Paul VI, as he lifted mandatory fast and abstinence (keeping it only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent), expressing confidence that mature Catholics would now freely embrace penance and self-denial.

Nor do I suggest that there aren’t a good number of Catholics who still take Lent very seriously with their acts of sacrifice, more fervent prayer, and added deeds of service and charity.

Yet, I am still moved to wonder if, as a Church, we have lost the wonder of Lent, that these forty holy days have gone the way of holy days of obligation, fasting before communion, and no meat on Friday.

And all our kids hear about is how Lent “used-to-be.”

So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on . . . the first Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on . . . a Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on . . . a Sunday of Lent!

I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition . . .

Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan . . .

And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.

Am I being too gloomy here?  You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab.  All I’m asking is:  have we lost Lent?  Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?

Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!

Let me ask you, is there anything different at all in your life, in the rhythm of your family and home, in your parish, this Lent?

Is it too late to get it back?

Rebuilding Our church So We Can Rebuild the Church

March 13th, 2014
Monday’s our feast day, everybody.

As a child, I grew up in a parish with a lot of Irish Americans, with a pastor whose folks came from Co. Tipperary, and wonderful Sisters of Mercy from Drogheda, Co. Louth, who taught us.

March 17 was a grand day, a holiday, with a “Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner” the Sunday before, the grade school girls trained by the sisters to dance the reels and sing the lyrics from Ireland.

But I noticed that the only ones actually from Ireland, the nuns, approached St. Patrick’s Day in a more reflective, somber, spiritual way.  It was clear to me that they looked at the feast as a holy day.

And, indeed, so should we!  For us in the Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick’s Day is not just about beer, music, and marching in parades, but about celebrating the feast of a saint who is particularly close to us as patron of our diocese and cathedral.

For me, the heart of the day is our 8:30am Mass in the cathedral.  I have no say over the parade that follows, nor do I expect one.  (From the press, you’d think I was running it.  I don’t.) But, I have a lot to say about the Mass.  It’s SRO, spirited, reverent, prayerful.  It’s what March 17 is really all about.

That it takes place in the Cathedral that bears his name, built with the pennies of immigrants who survived with nothing but their religion, the genius of an archbishop from Co. Tyrone who wanted a “cathedral of suitable magnificence” as an icon thanking God for faith and freedom, and proclaiming to the city and the world that the Catholic Church was at home in America and here to stay in the nation’s major metropolis, makes this Mass all the more moving.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral belongs to us all – – Catholic or not, Irish or not – – and has been since 1878 the real “soul of the city.”

But, she now needs our help.  Her bricks are crumbling and falling; her roof is leaking; her stained-glass windows shaky; her walls tarnished with soot; her pews splintered; her heat and air no longer reliable; her organ cranky; her wiring frayed.  Get the picture?  We’re not talking luxury here, folks…we’re talking basic, raw repairSimply put, we have no choice: if we don’t do the repair, we’ll have to shut down, and it’s all costing us $180 million!

It’s costing me sleepless nights as I worry about raising money.  However, a lot of generous people, some of them not Catholics, have come forward, and we’re at about $65 million from philanthropic donations, not including what we have invested.

So, St. Patrick’s needs your help, and his feast day is a good time to ask.

We’re still consulting about the best way to approach our people for help.  As I’ve mentioned, our advance gifts are already close to$65 million, and the archdiocese itself has invested some of its funds in the project.  However, we do envision an eventual archdiocesan capital campaign to raise funds for our parishes, pastoral initiatives, and our beloved St. Patrick’s.

You’ve seen her: the Cathedral is under dramatic repair and renewal.  Then again, so are each of us; so is The Church!

Jesus spoke to St. Francis from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.”  Pope Francis is doing that, isn’t he?  Here in the archdiocese, we want to rebuild our church, (St. Patrick’s Cathedral), so we can rebuild The Church!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

A Blessed Lent

March 5th, 2014

“Remember man! Remember woman! You are dust, and unto dust you shall return!”
Stern, sober, chilling? Yes!

Oppressive, pessimistic, dreary? No!

True, liberating, challenging? Yes!

Today, Ash Wednesday, literally millions of Christians – 50,000 at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral aone – will hear this exhortation from the Bible as they begin the forty day journey of prayer, sacrifice, and charity to Easter. You’ll notice them as they show up at work, school, shopping, with a smudge of dust, or ashes, on their forehead,

What’s it all about? A memory comes to mind.

Couple years ago, I visited a dying man at the renowned Calvary Hospital. I had known him as a crusty, salty, influential gentleman, who was also somewhat unfair in his business practices, stingy with his money, unfaithful in his marriage, at odds with his family, and lax in his own Catholic religion. But, now he was close to death, and had asked to see me. I took a deep breath, whispered a prayer, and went into the room.
There I was shocked – pleasantly – to see him and his wife holding hands, his estranged sister close to him by the bed, and his children close around. Through the oxygen mask I could see him, clearly weak, with a smile on his face.

“Cardinal, I’m dying. They tell me I could go anytime. What a blessing to know the end is near. I need God’s grace and mercy, because I haven’t thought that much of Him or His commandments most of my life. Now I’ve asked my wife to forgive me, I’ve apologized to my sister and kids, who I’ve neglected and mistreated all these years, and my lawyers just left after helping me give the millions I’ve selfishly horded away to those that need it. I’ve never felt freer or more at peace. Could you pray that God forgives me, too?”

Could I ever! I emptied the room so I could hear his confession; I called them back in as I anointed him and commended his soul to Jesus, and my smile was as big as his.

While not the day itself, that event was Ash Wednesday for him. He became conscious that he had an eternal destiny, that he was in a passover from this life to eternity, that he was returning to dust.The popular saying goes, “Live today as if it is the first day of the rest of your life.” Not bad…

Equally wise is the exhortation of Ash Wednesday: “Live today as if it’s the last day of your earthly life, and tomorrow the first of eternal life.”
So for forty days, Lent invites us to think more of our soul – – meant to live forever – – than our own body – – which will turn to dust.

A blessed Lent!

During Lent, Americans Retrace Ancient Pilgrimage Routes in Rome

March 4th, 2014
George Weigel writes in the Wall Street Journal about a wonderful tradition in Rome…that is undertaken by Americans! (It was begun by seminarians and student-priests from the Pontifical North American College…where I used to be stationed.) As we prepare to begin Lent, I thought you’d enjoy this piece:

“On March 5, Ash Wednesday, hundreds of residents of Rome will begin a six-and-a-half-week long pilgrimage to the Roman station churches of Lent—a tradition that began in the earliest days of legalized Christianity but, until recently, had lain fallow…

The station churches themselves, especially those off the tourist track, often astonish. The apse mosaic in the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian is a startling sixth-century anticipation of 20th-century art deco. The little church of St. Praxedes, hidden behind the vast basilica of St. Mary Major atop the Esquiline Hill, contains the golden mosaic St. Zeno Chapel, one of the most beautiful rooms on the planet.

Amid the world’s continuous wayfaring, the Roman station church pilgrimage has a unique character, combining history, art, architecture and the human quest for truth. Built on the foundation of martyrs’ homes, it is a reminder that religious freedom is never cost-free. And its revival by Americans, who lead it today, is a fine act of gratitude from the New World to the Old.”

Read the rest here.

Update from Rome: Preaching the Truth with Love

February 25th, 2014

This comes from Rome, where the sun is shining brightly, the sky is deep blue, the breeze is warm, the wine flows, and the pasta is al dente… and you are jealous!

It has been a full week.  Last Thursday and Friday, the entire College of Cardinals met with Pope Francis to discuss marriage and family.  The cardinals spoke as pastors, very aware of the threats to marriage and family, attacks from culture, the state and entertainment, for instance; but also of the beauty, nobility, and poetry of God’s grand gifts of husband, wife, father, mother, and children.  How can we propose to the world anew the grandeur of family, and defend marriage, without wringing hands and manning the barricades?  How better can we preach the truth with love?

The cardinals also pushed the image of the Church as family: God, our Father; Mary, our mother; Jesus, our older brother; the saints, our elders; our fellow Catholics, our siblings.  Like any family, we have our dysfunction, but we come to our supernatural family for rebirth in baptism, nourishment at the Eucharist, reconciliation in penance, maturity in confirmation, solidarity in prayer and charity.  We are born into this family of the Church, and we long to die in her embrace.

The consistory itself, welcoming the nineteen new cardinals and their people from all over the world, took place on Saturday and Sunday. Pope-emeritus Benedict ”stole the show,” with his humble, unexpected presence, quietly joining the rest of us in prayer.  It had been a year since we had seen him, and he brought joy to our hearts.

Yesterday and today I’ve been at meetings to plan the Synod of Bishops slated for October, 2014, and October, 2015, both on the topic of — you guessed it — marriage and family. It’s very clear that Pope Francis wants to use these synods — meetings in Rome among the Pope and elected delegates from bishops around the world, along with clergy, sisters, and laity present as experts and observers — as a regular and respected form of his governance and teaching.  He is big into listening, as was clear to us as he sat with ears open in the two days of consistory, and our meetings for synod preparation.

With all this going on, I have not had much time to savor the sun, sky, breeze, wine, or pasta!

So, tomorrow, I’ll be home again after this week in the Eternal City, happy to be with you, yet relishing a return here the Sunday after Easter for the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

A February Consistory & Other Updates

February 18th, 2014

Just a few items to share with you.

For one, late tonight I leave for Rome, summoned there, along with my brother Cardinals from around the world, by Pope Francis.  Your intentions accompany me, and I already look forward to returning back here in a week.

What brings us over is the consistory for new cardinals, to occur this Saturday, February 22, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.  We “upper-classmen” are always there to welcome “freshmen”!

People wonder about the significance of even having cardinals anymore, and, occasionally, I do myself.

But, shortly after this new group of cardinals was announced last month, I met two Haitians working in the parking garage.  These men are grateful immigrants from beleaguered Haiti.  They ran up to me, ecstatic, with tears in their eyes, sharing with me their joy and pride that Pope Francis had named a Haitian bishop to the College of Cardinals!  To see their happiness convinced me that this ancient title still has relevance.

The Holy Father is a wise shepherd.  He realizes that naming a cardinal can be an act of encouragement and affirmation to a struggling people, a sign of solidarity with the Church Universal.  It sure worked for those two Haitians I met.

Prior to Saturday’s ceremony and Sunday’s Mass, Pope Francis has asked all the world’s cardinals- – including the new ones- -to come together Thursday and Friday to discuss “Marriage and Family”, a topic close to his heart, already chosen as the theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops to take place in Rome October 2014 and 2015.

Since I was elected to the Permanent Council for the Synod of Bishops, I must remain in Rome Monday and Tuesday for all day meetings of that council.

Two, you know how I always try to alert you to any potentially negative publicity about the Church, or about me.  Well, there could be some.  My home archdiocese of St. Louis just complied with a court order to release the documents regarding cases there of sexual abuse of minors.  (Cardinal Egan already did that here a decade ago, sharing all of the information we had on abusive priests with proper district attorneys, something we continue to do today.)

Anyway, since I was an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis for a year (2001-02), and vicar for priests for nine of those twelve months, I would anticipate that my name will again be highlighted in the press.  I sure have nothing to hide, and am very much at peace with law enforcements officials reviewing the files.  In fact, we already released all the documentation to them a dozen years ago!

This will be, I suspect, a repeat of last year’s attempt by the same tort lawyers to muddy my name.  A year ago, they contended- – remember?- -that while Archbishop of Milwaukee I had “hidden funds”, and they had even deposed me.  Nothing of course ever came of it, although the ever-compliant press here gave me headlines about being deposed.  (The headlines were much smaller when the Judge eventually ruled that I had acted properly.)  However, knowing how their attorneys operate, and some reporters here cooperate with them, I would anticipate some attempt at bad publicity again.  I’ll keep you posted…

Finally, there was good news recently in our pro-life movement: the city health department reported a drop in the city’s abortion rate.  That’s good news!  The somber news is that New York City still has twice the national average of abortions.

What I also find troubling is the conclusion of the health department that this is due to increased use of IUDs and other chemical and implanted contraceptives.  Really? No proof is offered.  I guess some of the welcome decline could be due to that.  But is it too much to conclude that another reason for the decline is that more and more mothers and fathers see abortion for the tragedy that it is, the unjust taking of an innocent, fragile, human life?  Perhaps, too, its became more and more people see that casual, promiscuous sex hardly leads to health or happiness, and are now acting virtuously?  I know it’s hard for some to accept- -unless you believe in human freedom, its beauty, genuine choice to wait for marriage, and that the human person is not a slave to passion and cultural pressure.

Thanks for listening!

Standing Up for Persecuted Christians in the Middle East

February 6th, 2014

Recently I read this moving piece on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. It is our duty to stand up for them as is eloquently outlined by Johnnie Moore, author and Professor of Religion and Vice President at Liberty University, on FoxNews.com:

I wept as I heard their stories, and I wondered why Christians around the world weren’t incensed by it all.

Ironically, that meeting in Jordan was not convened by Christians, but by Muslims who cared about the plight of their Christian neighbors.

At one point, Jordan’s strong and kind king said that “it is a duty rather than a favor” to protect the Christians in the region, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a senior adviser to the king, acknowledged that “Christians were in this region before Muslims.” He said, “They are not strangers, nor colonialists, nor foreigners. They are natives of these lands and Arabs, just as Muslims are.”

While I was deeply encouraged by the tone of these Islamic leaders, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “I wonder how many Christians in the West even care about those in the East?”

In that moment, I decided I would be their advocate.

Read the rest here.

NYPost: Meet the new pope — same as the old pope

January 31st, 2014

Another good article from the New York Post. Kyle Smith reflects on coverage of the Church:

It’s hard for liberals (and maybe some conservatives) to wrap their heads around this, but Catholic doctrine doesn’t line up neatly with American views of left and right. The church is steadfastly pro-life on abortion (we associate that with conservatives) but equally pro-life on capital punishment (a view we call liberal). Nor has the Vatican altered its commitment to uplifting the poor or its related suspicion of capitalism.

Read the rest here.

NY Post: “Catholic schools’ secret: love”

January 31st, 2014

Here is a wonderful piece on our Catholic schools–during Catholic Schools Week–in the New York Post by Bill McGurn:

We don’t speak much about love in education, not even during Catholic Schools Week. Instead, we focus on more tangible measures of success: how 99 percent of Catholic school students get their high-school diplomas; how a black or Latino child is 2.5 times more likely to graduate from college if he or she has attended a Catholic high school; how Catholic schools manage to do all this at a fraction of the cost of public schools…

Back when he was playing for the New York Jets, Damien Woody sent his children to St. Vincent’s even though his family wasn’t Catholic. At a Christmas concert, a fellow parent asked him why. He answered, “My wife and I believe that a school where they love God will love my children.”

Read the rest here.